[spam score 3/10 -pobox] RE: How hard a Singularity?

From: Ben Goertzel (ben@goertzel.org)
Date: Tue Jun 25 2002 - 22:24:22 MDT

> The interesting part is that I have little actual
> experience
> with academia vs experience in industry. Maybe we just do things
> differently out here in Arizona. ;) Makes me wonder if I should try to
> get more involved with Academia. Then again ASU isn't exactly a stellar
> model for Computer Science (it is, after all, one of the nations
> top party
> schools!). :(
> James Higgins

Well, about getting involved with academia, here's the thing...

If you want to very thoroughly learn very narrow, highly technical material,
universities are great. There are brilliant people there doing deep &
fascinating work on important topics. Even at a university that's not
highly rated, nearly every department is bound to have a handful of really
brilliant people doing amazing things.

However, if you want creative, long-term-oriented, out-of-the-box (to use an
annoying phrase) thinking -- and if you want your own interesting,
speculative, maybe not yet fully-based ideas to be taken at all seriously --
academia is definitely *not* the place.

It is possible to get normal academic scientists interested in out-there
stuff like AGI and the Singularity, but it takes a lot of social art &
science (I'm better at this than many, but still learning for sure). It's
*especially* hard if you're not a professor yourself; most professors
(except those who have spent a lot of their careers outside academia) have a
very hard time taking seriously any idea that did not originate with another
professor, and that is not presented in the manner typical of academia
(modest impersonal tone, ample & current references, etc.).

I'm glad I got my PhD, because sitting through years of technical math
coursework was invaluable to me. On my own I would not have had the
patience to do all the exercises needed to master that much math; I would
have skimmed things over more quickly, eager to get to the parts directly
relevant to my current research ideas. However, I'm also glad that I never
fully absorbed the "academic mindset", in which the most important thing is
to generate results that can be published in popular journals on a roughly
semiannaul basis.

Just as business overfocuses on quarterly profits, academic researchers
overfocus on keeping a steady stream of "acceptable" papers coming out
(where "acceptable" refers not only to quality but also to conformity of
research topic). Neither of these short-term focii is optimal for long-term
progress in new domains.

Overall, the current US academic process and mentality is pretty good at
filtering out ultra-dumb ideas and loony people (at least in the sciences,
I'm not going to give you my rant on the state of the social sciences, which
is a lot more spotty ;), but is very bad at encouraging innovation and
long-term creative thinking...

Having said this (and having taught at a couple overseas universities and
visited many more), I do think the US graduate education system is the best
in the world. We monkeys just aren't that good at building productive
organizations of any kind, unfortunately...

-- Ben G

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